“We had to do something”: Many Czechs undertaking solo missions to aid Ukraine

Ukrainian refugees

Horrified by images of suffering from Ukraine, many Czechs are setting off in cars and vans to deliver aid themselves to people on the country’s borders – and ferrying refugees back to the Czech Republic. I spoke to two young men who drove to Prague four women and two children from the Ukrainian frontier.

Czechs have responded to Russia’s attack on Ukraine with a virtually unprecedented wave of solidarity.

One element of this has been volunteers ferrying material aid to the people of Ukraine, often off their bat, and bringing refugees back to the Czech Republic.

Vojtěch Černý and a group of others undertook just such a mission a few days ago.

“It will probably sound cheesy, but I recently became a father and my priorities kind of shifted a lot.

“Me and my friends, when we saw the pictures of the Ukrainian families basically hiding in the basements, babies being born in subway stations, during the ongoing bombing in Kyiv, we just got really angry.

“And we simply decided we had to do at least something.”

Photo: Visar Kryeziu,  ČTK/AP

Černý and his friends drove in two vehicles, delivering as much humanitarian material as they could to the border village of Veľké Slemence in Eastern Slovakia. It’s less than 20 kilometres from the Ukrainian city of Uzzhorod.

The group then brought four women and two children back with them to the Czech Republic on their 1,560 kilometre round trip.

Černý’s friend Bach Nguyen takes up the story.

“I think it was the Slovak Red Cross, or some of the volunteers at the site, who asked us where were we going, if we were going back to Prague. They told us they had a group of people who needed a ride to Prague.

“What happens at the border is that the Ukrainian side let’s through a relatively low amount of people, so the refugees come trickling in.

“And there are just the volunteers who drove the stuff there, waiting to see if there’s somebody they can help, maybe to drive them to Košice for the train, or things like that.

“Basically for us it was luck that once we were done the group that was waiting there needed to go to Prague and we were going to Prague at the same time.”

The Czech authorities and NGOs are now trying to dissuade people from endeavours of this kind.

Illustrative photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

Vojtěch Černý says he understands why this call is being made – but that his group’s mission was not unplanned.

“From my point of view, it was huge chaos there, in general.

“However, we did our research. We chose a pedestrian-only border crossing with no vehicles allowed to cross.

“And we even managed to make it to the borderline and we gave most of the provisions we brought there to a specific group of people we were in touch with beforehand; it was a friend of a friend.

“Actually the Slovak Army, the Slovak military, was quite helpful there and they led us to hand over the goods to the Ukrainians.

“We had our contacts there and we gave the aid to a specific group of people that were waiting on the other side of the border.”

Černý says he and his friends are planning to go back again in a couple of days, this time taking even more material.